Most evacuations were lifted Saturday near a Southern California wildfire that threatened more than 7,000 buildings as firefighters caught a break in the weather and redoubled efforts to surround it, reports The Associated Press.
At the same time, impending thunderstorms carried the threat of lightning and gusty winds that could spark new fires in the California mountains.
The fire that erupted on June 17 in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles was reduced to “a lot of creeping and smoldering” after higher humidity and cloudy weather moved in, said Lee Beyer of the U.S. Forest Service.
More than 2,000 firefighters made progress on the active northeast corner of the blaze. The fire was now 40 percent surrounded after scorching more than 47 square miles of desert brush and forest timber.
Authorities reopened Highway 38 and ended mandatory evacuations for most of the areas that were threatened. Only the Burns Canyon area remained under the order.
“We’re probably down to just a few hundred” threatened homes, Beyer said. “The sticky, humid weather of yesterday really lowered the fire behavior.”
The most active area was in the high, steep, remote San Gorgonio Wilderness Area, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles. It has no roads, so crews were forced to hike in and work with hand tools, he said.
However, because of the chance of thunderstorms, authorities planned to fly about 120 firefighters out of the region by evening and keep them out until the danger passes.
“They don’t want them out there on those exposed ridges and stuff with lightning,” Beyer said.